Peggy Woodford Forbes: Wall St. history maker

| February 19, 2015
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric D. Hackley

As part of my 2015 Black History Month Salute to descendants of Rev. J.W. Hackley of Niles, Mich., I’d like to present this interview with Peggy Woodford Forbes at the late 1990s Hackley Family Reunion outside Kalamazoo, Mich.

That was my first time ever meeting Peggy. Her grandmother Bessie Hackley Woodford is my great-grandfather Bert Hackley’s sister. Bert and Bessie’s dad was Jerome Hackley, the Rev. J.W. Hackley’s first born Michigan Hackley.

Eric Hackley: What is your current occupation?

Peggy Hackley Forbes

Peggy Hackley Forbes

Peggy Hackley Forbes: I am the first black woman to start a money management firm solely managing growth equity in the United States. What I do is, I manage portfolios for institutions like police funds or endowments and foundations. I have a team that works with me. I have a company and we manage about three-quarters of a billion dollars for different pension funds and endowments of high net worth for family offices and individuals. Bu,t managing money is a second career for me because when I was growing up, business ownership did not seem to be an option.

Hackley: What was you original option?

Forbes: I had a hard time choosing, but my first choice was theater. I worked in television and theater for many years. I was the producer of a repertory company in Boston.

I remember wanting to go to Yale drama school. I hadn’t really prepared for it and I was not accepted there. But, I did learn 15 years later that they didn’t accept women for the directors program which is something I was interested in, and they hardly accepted any black people either. I had always felt very bad because I wasn’t accepted but I learned later that it was a very hard bar to get over. It was a very small program and they weren’t inclined to accept a candidate like me.

But, I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do. My dad wanted me to go into medicine. He felt medicine or law were the two things that were open. Teaching of course too. But, he thought I could make a better living if I did medicine or law, and of course he loved medicine. He really wanted me to go to the top of any profession that I chose. So that was always my guidance.

Hackley: For a person who did not have a background in business, how did you prepare yourself for business and then excel to where you are today?

Forbes: I went back to school. I was married with children and I decided to go to business school which meant that I had to get tutoring in math in order to get up to speed so that I could take physics so that I would be prepared to take the GMAT test for grad school.

Then I applied to Columbia and Harvard and I was accepted into Columbia. I was told that it would be very hard by a fellow at Harvard to get into Harvard. He said “this is off the record,” but it’s because you’re too old. I was in my mid-30s at the time. So I got an M.B.A. from Columbia and went on to Wall Street working first in the futures market at E.F. Hutton and then at Merrill Lynch. I was there about 10 years before I started my own company which I started at the end of 1990.

Hackley: Apparently you were never intimidated by the hurdles that were lying in front of you?

Forbes: That’s not true. I think I was often intimidated. But, I wanted to achieve something. It meant very much for me to do something. And sometimes, I didn’t even know about how to go about doing it.

For instance, I’m in the money management field. I didn’t know anything much about money management before I went to business school. And of course, I learned much more when I got to Wall Street. But even then, if you’re not in it, you won’t know much about it. It’s been a very closed club.

It’s been a club of generally very wealthy people. Because mostly wealthy families have family offices that manage their money. If you look at the Rockefellers, they have a foundation. Many of the very wealthy families in the United States have foundations and they have family offices. Some are now beginning to manage money for other very wealthy people and the entry is to have something close to 15 or 20 million dollars discretionary that could be managed if you want money management from some of these family office type situations.

They’ve been able to do a lot of venture capital, a lot of the leverage buyouts plus having tremendous assets in the stock market for a long period of time. And having asset allocation and consultants working with them to make sure they achieve the kind of targets and goals they want to achieve with their money.

It’s certainly something that we as a people certainly are not exposed to very often. We don’t have the wealth for that. We don’t have the experience, although more people are getting it now and more firms have been risen it this field.

Hackley: What is your take on the American Dream? Do you think a person can achieve what they want to achieve primarily by their own individual initiative and perseverance?

Forbes: I think it does take a lot of initiative and perseverance. I think it sometimes takes some luck as well. It’s wonderful if the lot comes and opportunity comes in. But like everyone says, you usually have to be prepared for the opportunity, especially if you’re black.

I’ve seen a lot of other people unprepared for the opportunity but they get the opportunity and they also are able to fail much more than we are able to fail at something. And, they can continue to go because there is a network people helping and supporting them. I think that’s very important.

I have achieved a lot. I have achieved a lot more than I thought, I think. That’s really been kind of wonderful. I’ve had a lot of help along the way also. I haven’t done everything by myself. My parents have always been very supportive. My present husband has been very supportive and very helpful, along with my former in-laws and my children. So I can’t say I’ve done everything on my own, but I’ve looked at the things that I wanted to do, and I’ve tried to do it! Luckily, I’ve had a lot people saying, “go for it!”

Hackley: What relevance do you see in having a family reunion like this? Why is this important for you?

Forbes: Number one, I love the people here who I know and have grown up with. It’s wonderful to see each other over time, growing and seeing our families and just keeping that connection going. I think that’s very important. I think it would be very sad if that goes away. It’s fascinating to watch how families sort of change and evolve.

This use to be the Woodford Family reunion. Now it’s Williams Woodford because it seems to be more Williamses involved than Woodfords. And now, we have more Hackleys involved and it’s kind of really fascinating. I think it’s vitally important to have a sense of your roots, to have a sense of your connections and also be able to encourage or do whatever one can to be a help to people or a family member.

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Category: Civil Rights, Economics, History, People

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at

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